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Rumors of Chasen Shreve’s demise are greatly exaggerated

The lanky lefty has gotten off to a brilliant start in 2017

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees
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Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Note: as with all relievers, and especially at this time of the year, sample size caveats apply

Every person has one player that they irrationally dislike, that regardless of performance or off-field conduct, they hope he’ll be traded to the Padres. For me, that player has been Chasen Shreve. For a guy who enjoys creative, sometimes excessive, bullpen use, I’ve never been able to get behind Shreve.

That may be changing quickly, however, with Shreve’s 2017 performance. The lanky left-hander only just surrendered his first runs of the season last night, has been striking out more than a batter an inning, and owns the highest GB% of his career. The return of a shutdown left-hander has been something the Yankees have needed since Andrew Miller was traded, and there’s some evidence that this stretch of excellent play will continue.

First, in an era where every relief pitcher throws hard, Shreve’s velocity on all three of his pitches is up. In fact, you can see that all three of his pitches are better than, or matching, his career high in pitch speed.

per Brooks Baseball

There’s also good evidence that Shreve’s pitches have maximized movement so far this season, especially his splitter. The point of a splitter is to essentially work as a harder changeup: the pitch looks like a fastball, but breaks harder and comes in slower, and in theory, should result in more swings and misses. Again, a Brooks chart shows the development of Shreve’s splitter and its increased break.

per Brooks Baseball

Chasen’s also showed an enhanced ability to miss bats, critical for any pitcher. His swinging strike rate is at a career high (15.3%) and his overall contact rate is at a career low (65.5%). Shreve’s always struggled with giving up too much contact, and too much of it hard, but he looks to have solved that problem for now.

Finally, a key to Shreve’s early success has been, simply, his pitches have become more dangerous. This incorporates the break and speed improvements, in a more fun, all-in-one package. FanGraphs has a measure called Pitch Value that essentially measures which pitches are a pitcher’s best weapons, by analyzing run expectancy added or subtracted every time the pitch is thrown (e.g. a fastball thrown for an 0-1 strike reduces run expectancy, but throw it for a ball 1-0 and it adds expected runs).

For the first time in his career, all three of Shreve’s pitches are holding positive value at once. This gives him the confidence to throw any of them for positive results, and makes it harder for a hitter to predict a sequence of pitches. He has run into problems in the past where only his slider, for example, was adding positive value, and so batters would lay off the slider and focus solely on his fastballs.

The bullpen has been a pillar of strength for the Yankees this season, but the left-handers have presented some issues. With Aroldis Chapman’s injury and concern about his effectiveness, and Tommy Layne’s lack-of-being-good, it’s critical for Shreve to provide some stability and depth as a left-handed reliever. He’s shown that ability so far this year, and it looks like he could continue. If he does, I may not end up liking him, but at least I’ll stop wanting him traded to the Padres.

Stats from FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball